Interviews

Dr. Anthony Youn on Holistic Plastic Surgery, Childhood Insecurities, and the Power of Social Media

Photo by Justen Williams

When I first met Anthony Youn, MD, board-certified plastic surgeon from Troy, Michigan, I was struck by his remarkable presence. He’s exceptionally tall, undeniably friendly, and noticeably well-spoken during our encounter. But the doctor — who also happens to be an award-winning author  — says his demeanor wasn’t always this way. You would never guess it by meeting with him, but Dr. Youn felt very shy and insecure in his younger years, all because he wasn’t happy about how he looked. 

During high school, Dr. Youn felt that his jaw was too large for his face, making it appear more prominent than he’d like. In an effort to fix it, he sought surgery to set his jaw back so that it would look smaller. He claims that this experience made him realize quickly how deeply one's perception of their appearance can affect their self-esteem. This personal procedure was Dr. Youn’s first exposure to the world of plastic surgery. 

Yet, it wasn’t until years into his plastic surgery career that a different event would define Dr. Youn’s calling. Sherry, a 60-year-old woman, came to Dr. Youn requesting a facelift. He declared her a candidate for the procedure, and everything went smoothly. Feeling like her recovery was going better than expected, Sherry ignored Dr. Youn’s recommendation to rest, and instead chose to go on a run three days post-procedure. This high-intensity exercise caused her jowls to fill with blood, necessitating an emergency operation to save her.

This frightening experience made Dr. Youn completely re-evaluate how he treats his patients. Now, he calls himself a “holistic plastic surgeon,” with a focus on helping each patient with more than just their surgical needs. “[Holistic plastic surgery] allows me now to use plastic surgery as an absolute last resort,” explains Dr. Youn. Instead, he works to educate patients on more than just going under the knife. He also provides general, healthy lifestyle advice (including nutrition), and even offers guidance on natural skincare product options during their consults. 

Outside of work, Dr. Youn is a father of two and an avid guitar player — he even performs with his church praise band every month! Keep reading to learn more about this, his big break (hint: it was on TV), as well as why he thinks social media is one of a doctor’s most powerful tools.

Spotlyte: Tell us how you came up with the idea of “holistic plastic surgery.”

Dr. Anthony Youn: I trained very conventionally. I went to four years of medical school, five years of residency, and a cosmetic plastic surgery fellowship in Beverly Hills. When I started my practice, I was like any other plastic surgeon. But, then I had a patient who had a pretty devastating complication, and there wasn't anything that I could have done to prevent it. So, I took some time to really reassess my practice, and I spent a lot of time researching holistic health. It forced me to take a very critical look at what I'm doing for my patients, and it caused me to go in a bit of a different direction.

Spotlyte: What exactly does the idea of “holistic plastic surgery” mean to you?

AY: What I consider “holistic plastic surgery” is using actual plastic surgery as a last resort. We're lucky that we live in a time where we have so many other options available to us. In the 1980s, all we had was surgery. Now, [it’s different]. All the technology that is present in the field of plastic surgery — like lasers, radio frequency, ultrasound, and injectables — allows me to now use plastic surgery as an absolute last resort.

Photo by Justen Williams

Spotlyte: What inspired you to become a plastic surgeon in the first place?

AY: I always had this vague notion that I wanted to become a doctor to help people. And, initially, I thought I was going to become a general surgeon. But the day I saw a general surgeon, a 60-year-old doctor, stumble out of a call room at three in the morning to handle a trauma, I thought, "Maybe that's not the right field for me.” Plus, I always wanted to be an artist. So once I found the field of plastic surgery, it really seemed to make more sense [for me]. Now, I'm using my hands and my artistry to help patients.

Spotlyte: How has your career changed since starting your own practice?

AY: I was really fortunate in that when I started my practice in 2004, I was on a show called Dr. 90210. In the span of a half hour show, my practice exploded into a very busy cosmetic practice.

Spotlyte: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

AY: The most rewarding part of the job — and this is pretty generic — is seeing a happy patient. Somebody who says, "Wow, this has changed my life." I can treat 30 patients in a day, and hopefully change their lives in that [same] day. And, I can educate patients on leading a healthier life, and maybe avoiding mistakes that they would have made with cosmetic procedures through my Instagram®, YouTube®, and my books. I [hope to] affect thousands. 

Spotlyte: What do you believe are the most important ways to promote healthy skin?

AY: What you eat, your environment, and clean skincare [is important]. There is so much skincare out there made with chemicals that we can do without. We're not necessarily choosy with what we put on our skin. People go to the drugstore and they buy creams that are laden with chemicals. So, I started my own skincare line called Youn Beauty™, which is made with natural and organic ingredients. 

Spotlyte: Let's talk about your personal skincare routine. What products do you use to care for your skin at home?

AY: I have traditionally used a lot of lines that are sold by most plastic surgeons. I've tried Obagi®, ZO® Skin Health, SkinCeuticals®, and SkinMedica®, too. 

Spotlyte: When you wake up in the morning, what's your regimen?

AY: I always cleanse in the morning. Occasionally, I use a toner. Then, I apply an antioxidant serum — a vitamin C or vitamin E combination. After that, [I put on] sunscreen. 

Spotlyte: What about at night?

AY: Cleansing is super important at night, because you have to get rid of that day's worth of dirt and grime. Once again, I tone when I'm not lazy. Then, I use a retinol moisturizer, and I combine that with a peptide-based moisturizer, as well. 

[Editor's note: Retinol shouldn't be used by those who are pregnant, considering getting pregnant, or nursing. Please consult with your doctor before use.]

Spotlyte: Do you get any injectables? 

AY: I get injectable wrinkle reducers for my elevens. I haven't had any filler yet. Although, I did have a woman accuse me on YouTube of having had too much filler recently. It [was] funny.

[Editor’s note: Injectable wrinkle reducers temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face, including the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet; they should not be used more frequently than every three months. Injectable filler is a temporary treatment that adds volume to areas of the face such as the lips, cheeks, and laugh lines. Like any medical treatment, both injectable wrinkle reducers and injectable fillers have potential risks and side effects. Talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you. And learn more now by chatting with a trained aesthetic specialist.] 

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Spotlyte: Have you tried any other in-office treatments?

AY: I do laser treatments, as well. I'll also use radio frequency skin tightening treatments and occasional chemical peels.

Photo by Justen Williams

Spotlyte: You’re very active on social media. How do you think social media has changed things for aesthetics?

AY: Social media has allowed us to have an unprecedented line of communication with our patients — and even people who aren't our patients. It used to be that it was very static: patients would go to your website and they would read what you've written. Now, there's an interaction with prospective patients that has never been had before. Ninety-nine percent of my followers are never going to be my patients, but I'm able to help them by giving them the information that they need [about aesthetics]. But, if I can help change their lives, to improve them in ways without them having to spend the money on a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist, then that's a beautiful thing. It's a very powerful communication tool for patients and doctors alike.

Spotlyte: Do you think there’s a downside to all the aesthetics-related content on social media?

AY: There's definitely a danger to social media because it's not policed by anybody. Anyone can go on social media, act goofy, dance around in an operating room that’s in their own office, and boast that they’re the best doctor in the world. The problem is that patients are being duped by doctors, and even non-doctors — all around the world — into having [surgeries] that they maybe don't need. And, unfortunately, there are sometimes [bad] consequences to it.

Spotlyte: What do you believe is the future of aesthetics?

AY: The future of aesthetics is more than just doing treatments and procedures. It's adding skincare. The real future is also looking at how your diet impacts your health, and even the microbiome of the skin [and] the microbiome inside our gut. It's not just skincare and treatments, but [also] what you put in your mouth and on your body.

Dr. Anthony Youn is a paid Allergan® consultant.

SkinMedica® is an Allergan-owned skincare line.

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